We live in a uniquely beautiful state filled with diverse landscapes that are teeming with a seemingly endless variety of plants and animals. And, few sights are more disheartening than seeing litter scattered along roadsides. According to research, 75% of Washingtonians never litter. However, early data from our 2022 statewide litter study show there are still more than 24,000 pieces of litter per mile on urban interstate highways and nearly 31,000 pieces of litter per acre on urban interchanges!
Washington spends more than $9 million annually to pick up litter. Many crews take on the task of picking up litter, including Ecology youth and adult litter crews, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) maintenance, Adopt a Highway volunteer crews, and Department of Corrections crews. From January to July 2022, crews collected 816 tons — over 1.6 million pounds — of litter from state highways. This is still only a small fraction of what gets tossed on roads. Millions of pounds of litter gets left behind and our efforts simply can’t keep up with the amount that accumulates on the roads each year.
The overwhelming majority of roadside litter comes from people who either toss it out their vehicle window or fail to properly secure their cargo. Of the 816 tons of litter collected, 94.6 tons — about 11.5% — came from encampments, or from near encampments where individuals were living unsheltered.
Litter negatively impacts the environment, wildlife, economy, well-being of communities and road safety. Litter from unsecured loads causes more than 300 traffic crashes and multiple fatalities per year. This is all preventable and everyone needs to be part of the solution.
Littering and illegal dumping are against the law. Fines range from $103 to $5,000. Many cities and counties have local ordinances that are stricter than the state law. WSDOT and Ecology do not enforce litter or unsecured load violations — that rests with the Washington State Patrol, local police departments, sheriff's offices, and health departments. Typically, they must witness the violation in order to issue a citation. Citations cannot be issued based on public reports alone.
Simple As That campaign
During the campaign, we’re giving away free car litter bags at all Washington Fred Meyer stores, until supplies last. Just visit the customer service counter to pick one up. We also encourage people to complete a survey about using the litter bag for a chance to win a $100 Fred Meyer gift card.
What you can do
- Always have a dedicated container for collecting trash in your vehicle. Use a litter bag while traveling to keep your vehicle tidy and reduce the chances of littering accidentally when you open a door or window. When visiting parks and other recreation areas, bring a bag with you so it’s easy to pack out what you packed in.
- Hold on to trash from your travels until you a reach waste receptacle at a gas station, rest area, or your destination. It may not seem like a big deal to toss the occasional bag or bottle on the ground, but those decisions add up to millions of pounds of litter that cost millions of dollars every year to clean up.
- Live litter free and help others do the same. Make sure your friends and family know how to live litter free and help them make better choices. According to our research, 26% of people who litter say they would be motivated to stop if “a friend, family member, or passenger asked me to refrain.” When we all look out for each other, it makes a big difference.
Help create a litter-free Washington by setting a good example for others by taking care of your trash the right way. The success of this campaign and the beauty of the state depends on everyone doing their part and not littering. If you’d like to help us spread the word and amplify our campaign efforts, check out the resources in our Litter Prevention Toolkit.
We Keep WA Litter Free
This effort is a part of our ongoing We Keep Washington Litter Free campaign in partnership with WSDOT, the Washington State Patrol, and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. We Keep WA Litter Free focuses on changing different littering behaviors and helping people understand the significant safety and environmental impacts of unsecured vehicle loads.